I have a new standard for literary excellence (as well as a new low point in parenting). I cannot take credit for this discovery. It is due entirely to my son’s innovation that I can honestly say I have read a book worth dying for.
The book in question is the third in a trilogy.* The work I am raving about is a series by Rachel Bach – the first book of which is called Fortune’s Pawn. That novel had me up until 2:00 a.m.–it was too good to put down. (Sadly, I cannot say that was the first time I ever pulled an all-nighter reading. Fortunately, the Harry Potter series came out before I had a child—well books one through five anyway. Books six and seven meant that I was up to the butt crack of dawn for reasons besides feeding a hungry baby.) Bach’s series has set the standard for all works of its kind to come…though I sincerely hope I’ve learned this particular lesson well enough not to repeat it.
After reading Fortune’s Pawn, I salivated waiting for the next two books to arrive. When I picked them up from the library, it took all my willpower not to open the books that night because I was afraid (rightly so) that I would ignore my responsibilities in order to worship at the altar of science fiction. So, I waited until I wasn’t going to be working the next day—or looking for a house or any of a myriad other pesky distractions—before settling down to read. Like a responsible adult, I decide to pace myself to a book a day. Well done me!
I zip through Book Two—Honor’s Knight—like I’m speed skating for the gold. (If reading were an Olympic event, I think I would at least place in the top ten.) I manage to finish Honor’s Knight a little after midnight—so not a bad run. I manage by sheer strength of will (and exhaustion of eyeballs) to not pick up Book Three—Heaven’s Queen. Her royal majesty will have to wait for another day. You’d think the universe would reward such forethought, wouldn’t you?
It’s Saturday, I’ve managed to drag my unwilling son to attend the Darwin Day expo at the Calkin Science Center, where butterflies pinned to boards and a table full of skulls garner nary a flicker of interest from the boy. The only interaction I can coax from my child is a grudging willingness to mash a strawberry in a bath of salt and soapy water to extract DNA. Touching the fruit is the closest he has come to actually eating one, so I count it as a win. Fast forward to the afternoon, son is happily lost in iPad land and mommy can finally pick up the sacred object her brain has been hankering for all day—Book Three. Once in hand, I never set it back down. I think I read for three or four or maybe seven hours straight. I lose all track of time while reading. I vaguely remember putting the child to bed…or sending him there…or him making up his mind to go there on his own. The details don’t matter! All that matters is the book and finding what happens next. So, what does happen next? I’ll tell you.
I am nearing the end, my brain is happily tromping through the universe, battling aliens alongside the intrepid, kick-ass heroine when I notice an odd smell. It’s faint, but grows as I pell-mell my way to the end of the book. On some subconscious level my brain starts to notice something besides the author’s efforts to wrap everything up in a shiny, star-spangled conclusion. What is that? I think. Metallic, but also kind of plastic-y. I twitch the thought aside and continue reading. Do I get up to check anything? No. Do I even pay more than a nanosecond attention to the fact that I’ve registered some kind of disturbance in the force? No, I’m getting to the good part. I keep going to the bitter-sweet end of the book. The heroine saves the universe and I reread a few of my favorite pages for dessert before putting the book down. And now, my brain does a double check. Hey…is that…is there some kind of toxic fume floating through the house?
Now I’m a bloodhound, sniffing my way from room to room, heading downstairs until a horrible thought smacks me upside my head. “The kid!”** I yank open his bedroom door. (Without checking to put a hand on it first…no, you aren’t going to remember to do that in an emergency.) There, on the floor, right next to my sleeping child, is the tent he’d constructed by laying a thick, green blanket over the bare-naked bulb of his table lamp. I’m hit in the face with not only the smell of melted, man-made fibers but also the realization that, if this had been any other material, my son might have been burned, or worse, due to my inattention. There is no greater conflicting emotion than the misery of what might have been fused next to the gratitude that it didn’t happen…except perhaps the fact that it would have been entirely my fault.
You might argue,‘You couldn’t have known.’ You’d be wrong. When you have a ‘special guy’ like my guy, you learn to expect the unexpected. You also put down the book and check on your kid when there is a chance he might be trying to burn the house down. At least, in the real world that’s what should happen. Let’s hope that the next time the foreshadowing comes knocking on my frontal lobe, somebody upstairs is paying attention. I really don’t want to write this story again. The sequel might not end so happily next time.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Man, I really hope there is a follow-up book. Can I petition the author do you suppose?
**I’m making a valiant effort to preserve my son’s anonymity—apparently putting the safety of his secret identify above his physical well-being.